Saturday, November 2, 2013

Does Prioritization Stifle Creativity?

Prioritization needs to provide a framework for focusing on the creativity.

A company has finite resources to apply to get the best yield possible to meet a stakeholder expectation. So there’re always some constraints for businesses to explore the new opportunities or deploy the new ideas, therefore, evaluation and prioritization are taken place to leverage resources in project or innovation management. Does it mean such prioritization process will stifle the creativity?

Evaluation vs. Prioritization: Creativity can be in the form of an idea, a solution, an approach., etc. It is up to the idea proposer to show it is worthwhile. Evaluation is where creativity lives or dies - depending on the nature, culture and needs of the organization. Evaluation should ask, "Is this a good idea?" and "Can we do it?" Prioritization then asks, "Is this the best use of our resources, now?" Prioritization is about managing constraints - you can't do everything; so which projects will you do? The key is to separate 'Evaluation' of ideas from "Prioritization."

Prioritization brings transparency to the organization, creating internal competition among new ideas and projects. Prioritization  forces people to be more creative, to come up with better ideas, because now they know that their ideas will be discussed at the board level, and if chosen, they will be followed closely. In addition, prioritization helps to focus the strategy of the organization, which has huge benefits in terms of execution.

In general, prioritization increases creativity and does not decrease it. But the term has a different semantic connotation, and each situation is different, so there is always going to be lots of different opinions. If you prioritize across all projects, you know which projects should get that extra increment of analysis and design effort. Creativity typically comes from having some slack resources that you can apply to problem-solving.

The risk-averse corporate culture could also be the issue to stifle creativity: Some organizations are open to new ideas and others resistant - it doesn't depend on whether there is a prioritization process or not. Corporations do need to prioritize. They also need a process by which evaluation of those priorities occurs and through that process review new ideas, revisions or changes, and just the killing floor of non-productive projects, programs, or activities on the prioritized list.

An overly complex process can easily stifle innovation: Because organizations get locked into huge processes around building extensive business cases. You may also refer to cases where the prioritization process is not well implemented, not respected, people use tricks to cheat the system, or eventually when the process becomes more important than the content and the goal, or too bureaucratic, which is when creativity is killed. In all these cases, the issue is not prioritization.

 Prioritization provides a framework for focusing on the creativity: It's only if the actual work is micromanaged and regulated to the point where resources are not able to create, then creativity becomes stifled. Prioritization is also the process and method that one communicates either top down or bottom up and impact how a creative approach, idea, or project is received in an organization. If you have two somewhat conflicting needs - high quality and low cost for example - you can apply creative techniques to achieve both. Prioritization of requirements can be an excellent augmentation to creativity in this case.

Prioritization is critical – as the alternative is a land grab for resources: It is usually suboptimal and damaging, especially when legitimate top priorities are delayed while pet projects are fully staffed. Since the projects have different investment considerations - for example, risk reduction for maintenance work, ROI for tactical and some strategic work, and organization learning measures for true innovation work. So the objective shouldn't be to work on only those projects for which you have staff - it should be to maximize what you can accomplish through creative leverage of your talent pool. 

Thereof, good process design should encourage creativity by giving people space to be creative and including evaluation of creativity as part of that process. If companies don't make room in the prioritization process for projects that have significant risks but also potentially significant upside results, it can, in fact, drive creative thinkers out of an organization. "Creativity" and "progress" don't always mean greater risks, but often the two go hand-in-hand if you are looking for breakthroughs or real innovation.


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